Bill To Remove Slavery From Iowa Constitution Advances

Screenshot from Iowa Senate subcommittee stream

By Ty Rushing

February 22, 2023

A bill circulating through the Iowa Senate would officially eliminate all forms of slavery in Iowa. Although Iowa entered the union as a “free state” in the waning days of American chattel slavery, the Iowa Constitution still allows for the enslavement of people as a punishment for crimes. 

Senate Study Bill 1144 proposes an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to remove “involuntary servitude” as a legal punishment and presents possible alternatives.

“Upon conviction of a crime, an Iowa court or an Iowa probation or parole agency may order the convicted person to engage in community service or other alternative to incarceration as part of sentencing for the crime in accordance with programs that have been in place historically or that may be developed in the future to provide accountability, reformation, protection of society, or rehabilitation,” the bill reads.

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A Senate judiciary subcommittee composed of senators Izaah Knox (D-Des Moines), Jeff Reichman (R-Montrose), and Tom Shipley (R-Nodaway) quickly advanced the legislation on Wednesday.

“Every once and a while, you hear about something on the books from a bygone era and it’s just common sense that it needs to be revised and go away,” Reichman said. “I’m glad we have the opportunity to look at this and get this amended and get this corrected.”

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Shipley, who chaired the hearing, said until he read the bill, he was not aware the Iowa Constitution still included a form of slavery.

“I was pleased to get the bill because I would have never dreamed that that language was in there,” he said. “Now, I’m just a little more knowledgeable about it.”

The bill will be considered by the full Senate judiciary committee at a time to be announced.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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